Slip and fall or trip and fall accidents are very common. These accidents can result in severe injuries, including cuts, broken bones, spinal injuries, head injuries, soft tissue injuries and even death. These types of injuries can be frightening, painful, and expensive. You may need long-term medical care or miss work due to your injuries.
If the injury occurred because a property owner didn't maintain their property or didn't warn visitors of potential dangers, it may be possible to recover compensation for your injuries or for the injuries that led to the death of a loved one. This is commonly referred to as a premises liability case.
Causes of Slip and Fall and Trip and Fall Injuries
There are a wide variety of hazardous conditions that can cause a slip and fall or trip and fall injury, including:
- Debris or obstructions. Equipment, supplies, merchandise, trash, debris, or other items left in an area where people walk can cause a trip and fall accident.
- Wet or slippery floor. Foreign substances such as spilled liquids, tracked-in rain, or recent floor cleaning can make a floor dangerously slippery. If the liquid isn't cleaned up or an appropriate warning sign isn't posted, a slip and fall accident can easily occur. Sometimes the flooring material is poorly chosen and simply too slippery to be safe.
- Uneven surfaces. Torn or loose carpet, broken floor tiles, uneven sidewalks, holes, or ditches may present a hazard if they are not properly marked.
- Broken equipment. Improperly maintained stairways, handrails, escalators, or elevators can cause trip and fall injuries.
There are many other hazards that can potentially cause a slip and fall or trip and fall injury on someone's property. Falling items, unsafe construction or work zones, and inadequate lighting are just a few other examples of unsafe conditions that might cause an injury.
Elements of a Slip and Fall Injury Claim in Georgia
To make a claim that a property or business owner's negligence caused an injury, you must be able to prove that the property owner had a duty to keep their property safe, that they failed in that duty, that the failure of duty caused the injury, and that the injury caused damages.
Duties of Georgia Property Owners
The Georgia Supreme Court summarized the duty to maintain property as follows:
- The owner/occupier owes persons invited to enter the premises a duty of ordinary care to have the premises in a reasonably safe condition and not to expose the invitees to unreasonable risk or to lead them into a dangerous trap.
- The owner/occupier is not required to warrant the safety of all persons from all things, but to exercise the diligence toward making the premises safe that a good business person is accustomed to use in such matters.
- This includes inspecting the premises to discover possible dangerous conditions of which the owner/occupier does not have actual knowledge, and taking reasonable precautions to protect invitees from dangers foreseeable from the arrangement or use of the premises.
This duty of care extends to maintaining the property itself, as well as "approaches" to the property, such as ramps, driveways, stairs, sidewalks, and parking lots.
Did the Property Owner Have Knowledge of the Hazard?
Another critical element is being able to prove that the property owner or occupier breached their duty to keep their property safe. You must be able to demonstrate that the property owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the injury.
To understand the difference between actual and constructive knowledge, consider the example of a slip and fall injury due to an oily spill on a supermarket floor:
- Actual knowledge is something that is seen, heard, or otherwise actually known. If the store owner saw the spill occur or an employee told the store owner about the spill, that would indicate that the store owner had actual knowledge of the hazardous condition.
- Constructive knowledge is something that a property owner should have known, even if they didn't actually know it. For example, if the oily substance was on the floor for a long time before the injury occurred, the owner likely should have known it was there, if he or she took reasonable precautions to periodically inspect the property for safety hazards.
Did the Injured Person Have Knowledge of the Hazard?
In most Georgia slip and fall or trip and fall cases, the injured person must also prove that they were not aware of the hazardous condition that caused their injury. If the hazard that caused the injury was "open and obvious" or in "plain view," the owner may not be liable for the injury.
The law doesn't demand that you constantly scan every inch of your surroundings for potential hazards. The standard that is used in most injury cases is whether the injured person "exercised prudence the ordinarily careful person would use in a like situation."
For example, a defense attorney may argue that an "ordinarily careful person" would be aware that the area near a shopping mall entryway could be wet on a rainy day and would therefore exercise reasonable care to avoid slipping on a wet floor. Similarly, small cracks and holes often develop in pavement. If a crack, hole or bump was clearly visible, an "ordinarily careful person" may be able to avoid tripping and falling due to the uneven surface.
That doesn't mean you can't recover damages for injuries that occur in these situations. The standard of "ordinary care" is very case-specific.
An experienced slip and fall injury attorney can review all the details of your case to help prove that it was the property owner's negligence that led to your injuries, rather than your lack of care and attention. For example, an attorney may be able to demonstrate that you were distracted by something else on the property and therefore didn't notice the hazardous condition, even though it was visible.
Time Limits for Slip and Fall or Trip and Fall Cases in Georgia
A claim for damages due to slip and fall or trip and fall injuries must be filed within a certain period of time. This is called the "statute of limitations." In Georgia, the statute of limitations is often two years from the date of the injury.
There are some important exceptions to the time limits, particularly for injuries that occur on government property. Although the two-year statute of limitations period usually applies in these cases, the law often requires notice earlier than this for cases involving state, county, or local government agencies or employees. For example, you must provide notice of a claim against a city or town government within six months of the injury.
If you've been injured in a slip and fall or trip and fall case on someone else's property, it is important to contact an injury attorney as soon as possible after the injury occurs. That way the evidence in your case is still "fresh," and you don't run the risk of missing an important filing deadline.
Contact the Hadden Law Firm to make sure your rights are protected and you don't lose the chance to receive the fair compensation you deserve.